Friends with benefits… or 1099s

What makes working with friends work? It works when it doesn't feel like work.

Like most of us in the early days of building a business, I have dreams of what it will be.

Not surprisingly, those dreams are peopled with people I know and love, rather than strangers. Of course, as a leader in a small, growing business, and a workplace creative, I’m committed to prevailing over conundrums I’ve encountered as a colleague, a coach, and a consultant. 

One is: how to work well with friends? 

Or, how to channel to a new end our very human (also, primate) “tend and befriend” response — our impulse to “twin” or pair off when anxiety is high?

For entrepreneurs, opting to work with friends is a logical (and physiological) response to the considerable threat of being out there on our own, eating what we kill. Leaders in more established businesses gravitate toward whom and what we know in order to hedge against the unknown and instability outside of our control.

When we surround ourselves with people too much like ourselves, we construct, in effect, a huge blind spot. Only, it feels like a magical tent: Small on the outside, with wondrous goings-on within. Warmth and fascination, acrobatics and applause. If you are like me, you will drag all of your best toys in there, to perfect and admire before putting them into play out in the world.

Working with friends can afford us the surfeit of safety that allows us to take business-critical risks. It’s not about balance. The ideal ratio is SAFETY:risk. With self-awareness and intentionality, we can maintain a stable organization built around an admittedly lopsided — though no more than the ones that skew toward the transactional — form.

Here are some tips (sourced from friends, natch) for keeping the personal and professional in a healthy dynamic:

1.    Privilege the relationship: Remember what drew you to your friend. Make a pact that you’ll always put that first. Friends before dividends, as it were.

2.    Invite others into it: Ever been in a painful triangle or felt like a third wheel? This is the opposite.  Stable triads counter the bias accompanying convergent thinking.

3.    Create space for work: Whether you are meeting in a corporate office, walking in the park, or on laptops in a cafe, signal to yourselves you’re here for business.

4.    Have an agenda: It can be easy to get distracted — by work. Structure your time with the most business critical items. Don’t neglect personal matters. Calendar them.

5.    Compensate fairly: As friends, you are on the same side of the table. Or, closer than people who know one another only professionally. Err on the side of generosity.

6.    Draft an agreement: When it is time, make a legal agreement to clarify your partnership. First, try all manner of ways of being related. It’s what friends are for.